Once upon a time, whisky used to be a bit of a stodgy affair. Men had a personal brand, sometimes inherited, and rarely did they deviate. Granddad only drinks Laphroaig, so I drink Laphroaig. Or, Hunter S. Thompson was a Wild Turkey man, so Wild Turkey it is. Or, we’ve been drinking beer all night and it’s time to switch to whisky, and everyone on the rig crew drinks Wiser’s. You get the idea. Either that, or you get one of those damn insufferable whisky experts (ahem) who wants to sample every expression from every distillery in the world, spends all his time with his nose in a glass, and counts down the days until his latest Jim Murray arrives.
What’s necessary, then, is something of a gentle introduction that’s glad to experience the whole wide world of whisky without becoming too dense, too intimidating, or too condescending. Happily, that exists in Drink More Whisky, by Drink Me Magazine’s editor Daniel Yaffe.
Yaffe’s aim is a bit discerning: he wants to tell you, the hypothetical whisky neophyte, everything you ought to know about the water of life, but not one jot more. There are plenty of whisky compendiums, encyclopaedias, and whisky bibles out there, and this is decidedly not one of them. Yeast strains, detailed histories, and obsessive listings of each distillery? Won’t find it here.
So, what is everything you ought to know? Well, you get a brief introduction to the basics, including a smattering of terminology, some nearly universal truths about whisky making, how to taste it, why it’s sometimes spelled with an ‘e’, and where to learn more. Then, Yaffe will take you on a brief tour of the major whisky categories, starting with white dog, then American whiskey, Canadian whisky, Scotch, Irish whiskey, Japanese whisky, and other world whiskies. Each gets a brief history, some notes on what makes it distinctive, and a few helpful suggestions of bottles to try first. Each chapter ends with a handful of cocktails, some simple and iconic (i.e., the old fashioned), and others a bit more complicated (i.e., the ten-ingredient Saskatchewan Punch). Finally, Yaffe leaves you with a few more technical notes, in case this introduction wasn’t enough and you’re considering one of the aforementioned compendia.
Overall, Drink More Whiskey is probably the best introduction to whiskey you’ll find, unless you happen to be friends with a very patient whisky connoisseur who happens to have a well-stocked cellar. Yaffe sort of writes like a twenty-something who has just returned from Europe, and he just can’t wait to tell you all about it. That kind of thing annoys the hell out of an incorrigible grump like me, especially the chipper prose and jokes about leprechauns, 007, and Pamela Anderson, but this kind of book isn’t really written for grumps, but for the newly enthusiastic.
Drink More Whiskey isn’t something an experienced connoisseur will find terribly informative, unless said connoisseur hasn’t bothered to venture beyond the boarders of his chosen whisky country (in which case, what the hell?). But for the newbie, or someone just getting serious with the spirit, is exactly the thing the read. It’ll clear up most misconceptions, give a broad overview of the lay of whisky lands, and chart a course for what will hopefully be a long life of drinking whisky.
Drink More Whiskey is available at Chapters Indigo for $18.